Five hours and twenty-two courses after arriving, my dining companions and I staggered through O Ya’s heavy wooden door, already reminiscing about some of the earlier courses that seemed to have been eaten days ago. One of Boston’s most extravagant and exorbitant dining experiences, the Grand Omakase Chef Tasting at O Ya is certainly one of the most memorable as well. It is an endurance exercise of near-epic proportions. While the courses are fairly small – many consisting of a single piece of sushi – it is an intense meal that shows off a selection of O Ya’s standard menu as well as some favorites of the chef that can’t be ordered apart from the Grand Omakase.
From wild king salmon to Kumamoto oysters to smoked unagi and everything in between, the seafood at O Ya is flawlessly fresh, unblemished, and gorgeously prepared, often with non-traditional or unusual toppings. The hamachi, available on the standard menu as well as the Omakase, is served with spicy banana pepper mousse. Our eighth course, salmon, was topped with Vietnamese dashi caramel and spicy rau ram salsa. The “Fabergé” onsen egg arrived towards the end of the meal, embellished with white sturgeon caviar and gold leaf.
But my favorite course by far was not even sushi: a seared petit (and they do mean petit) strip loin of wagyū. It quite literally almost brought tears to my eyes twice: once, as I ate it, because it was the best beef I had ever tasted, and a second time, when I finished, because, well, there was no more of it left. At $61 if ordered à la carte, this minuscule portion of heaven is sadly not likely to have a repeat performance in my near future, but I can still vividly remember the taste – and the texture. Velvety, salty, lightly seared, perfectly rare. And a hint of white truffle oil.
Speaking of truffles, let’s talk about fungi. Honestly, I hate mushrooms. I keep trying them, though, because I know I’m missing out on lots of interesting dishes, but I’ve barely made progress on this distaste. Our meal included alba white truffles, burgundy truffles, and grilled chanterelle and shiitake mushrooms; I worried that my friend who was paying for dinner was wasting his generosity. I ate every bite. Does this mean I like mushrooms now? Probably not. But it is a pretty good indicator of the extremely high quality of everything that leaves O Ya’s kitchen. Need some perspective from someone who isn’t anti-fungi? New York Times food writer Frank Bruni named O Ya the best new restaurant in the United States in 2008 – and, “at the risk of putting [his] credentials as a carnivore in doubt,” he pinpointed the grilled chanterelle and shiitake dish as the best on the menu.
The ambience is quiet and — please excuse the cliché — quite zen-like. The space is small but never feels cramped, and the service is friendly and extremely accommodating, especially with regard to food allergies. To be honest, I think this meal would still be worth it even if the ambiance and service were mediocre; it’s just an added bonus that they are fantastic.
While this meal will utterly destroy your wallet, if food is your luxury of choice, you’ll likely find O Ya’s Grand Omakase worth your money for a truly special occasion. Or, skip the chef’s tasting and order à la carte – still pricey, but not quite as extravagant. And if you happen to have an extra $61 available, please send an order of that wagyū my way.
Hours: Tue-Thurs 5pm – 9:30pm;
Fri-Sat 5pm – 10:00pm;
Closed Sun, Mon
Reservations are recommended
Rachel Leah Blumenthal is a Somerville-based writer, photographer, and musician. She writes about food on her blog, Fork it over, Boston!, and runs Boston Food Bloggers, a networking community. For more information, visit RachelBlumenthal.net.